Global Talent visa news: endorsing body Tech Nation ceases as grant funding awarded to Barclays Eagle Labs
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NB: Update 24 April 2023: Tech Nation has been acquired by the Founders Forum Group (FF Group) and will be continuing to endorse the Global Talent visa for notable tech talent until further notice, both for existing ands new people coming to the UK on this immigration route.
Updated 2 February 2023
In big breaking immigration news for the UK’s tech sector, Tech Nation has announced that it is to cease operations from 31 March 2023. The government-funded organisation founded by the coalition government to support the UK’s tech and innovation sectors said that following withdrawal of its funding by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) it would be looking to hand over functions to other organisations. This would presumably include endorsement of the digitech route to a Global Talent visa – which it is currently the only body contracted to administer for the UK government.
Though according to Tech Nation, processing of endorsement applications of what they called the Tech Nation visa is currently expected to continue as normal up to and beyond the 31st March, therefore applicants should continue to apply. The organisation insists that they expect previous endorsements issued by Tech Nation are unaffected and remain valid, and Tech Nation says that it is working with the Home Office regarding the longer term plan for Tech Nation’s visa programme, with more announcements to be made.
What this means in the long run for tech leaders and talent set to seek endorsement for the digitech route of the Global Talent visa will hopefully be confirmed soon, as well as what this means for people currently endorsed by Tech Nation for a Global Talent visa, as endorsement is meant to be a continuous process.
According the UK Immigration Rules, if an endorsing body is no longer approved, where a person has entry clearance to the UK or permission under the Global Talent route “their entry clearance or permission may be cancelled if their endorsing body ceases to hold that status for the route in which they were endorsed.” Thousands of digital technology talents and their families have used this immigration route to settle in the UK and work for some of the biggest UK tech brands.
Tech Nation and Global Talent visas
You can apply for a Global Talent visa to work in the UK if you’re a leader or potential leader in one of the following fields:
- academia or research
- arts and culture
- digital technology
Each field has its own endorsing body. For example: those seeking a Global Talent visa who work in the film and TV industry may need to seek endorsement from PACT, architects from RIBA, scientists may approach the Royal Society etc.
The Global Talent visa rebranded the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa immigration routes for those with talent recognised by their respective industries or academia in February 2020. This included the Tech Nation Visa launched in October 2015, making it easier for people with technical skills such as senior systems engineers, principal software engineers and developers, artificial intelligence and cyber security experts to come to the UK and help develop major new technologies.
The Global Talent visa digitech route offered founders and employees with technical or business backgrounds, including sectors such as FinTech, AI, cyber and games a very useful five year visa, with a route to settlement in the UK for applicants and their families.
A statement on the Tech Nation website published on 31 January 2023 said: “After a decade as a government-backed organisation serving the UK scaleup tech ecosystem, we are today announcing that Tech Nation will be closing its doors from 31st March 2023.
“As a direct result of the DCMS grant withdrawal, Tech Nation will be ceasing all existing operations through a carefully planned wind-down. Tech Nation is also actively seeking interested parties to acquire its portfolio of assets to take forward in a new guise.”
The start-up supporting body said it had processed over six thousand Global Talent Visa applications and endorsed over three thousand visas. It confirmed that the UK Home Office has been informed of its decision to cease operating at the end of March.
Who will process Global Talent visa tech application endorsements?
The endorsing body’s statement said that as Tech Nation’s core grant funding from DCMS was now being awarded to Barclays, “with this foundation removed, Tech Nation’s remaining activities are not viable on a standalone basis.
“As a direct result of the DCMS grant withdrawal, Tech Nation will be ceasing all existing operations through a carefully planned wind-down and has commenced a redundancy consultation process,” its website said.
“For those whose primary role is DCMS delivery work, we initiated TUPE discussions with Barclays Bank and have informed DCMS. Our DCMS contract concludes on 31st March, and thereafter all current activities will be wound up. The Home Office has been notified of Tech Nation’s plans to cease operations and our visa programme will continue in the immediate term.”
Whether after the “immediate term” another body will take over the Global Talent visa functions, possibly with the same staff, or whether a version of Tech Nation will continue to fulfil such a role with other funding, remains to be seen.
Barclays’ tech incubator Eagle Labs will use the DCMS grant — which has been awarded for just two years — to launch new programmes to help tech companies, but a DCMS announcement of the award to Eagle Labs made clear that it would not be taking over Tech Nation’s role endorsing Global Talent visas.
A telling note published with the DCMS announcement insisted: “Decisions around funding Tech Nation receives from other government departments, including its role as a visa endorsing body, are not related to the outcome of this grant award. Barclays Eagle Labs will not take over any administration of visa schemes.”
Which does not appear to reflect the reality for Tech Nation who said that: “work we do with our accelerator programs, insights and research reports, the Growth Platform, visa processing for the Home Office, and so much more, has all been built on the foundation of our core grant funding from DCMS.”
So did the “open competition and rigorous assessment process” that the DCMS said “represented the best value for taxpayers’ money” for its grant award put any planning into who would fund or administer Global Talent visa tech endorsements?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has often insisted that the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system would attract the “international talent” necessary to make the country a global hub for innovation.
In a speech delivered just four days before before the tech Global Talent visa endorsing non-profit announced its demise, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said “I want the world’s tech entrepreneurs, life science innovators, and green tech companies to come to the UK because it offers the best possible place to make their visions happen.”
Yet clarity is now urgently needed on the flagship immigration route for tech talent – especially with the UK’s scale-up, digital and technology sectors currently reporting record labour shortages hampering their growth. A quarter of people in the UK on a Global Talent visa immigration route are founders, many with senior tech positions. What’s more, 73 per cent of investment in the UK’s technology sector comes from overseas.
Home Office promises those on Global Talent digitech visa won’t be “disadvantaged”
The Home Office told Tech Monitor that it is looking at options to “ensure the continuity” of the Global Talent tech visa scheme. A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are working closely with Tech Nation to ensure continuity of the digitech strand of the Global Talent visa in the short term, whilst we explore the long term changes necessary in light of Tech Nation’s planned closure.
“We will also take every available step to ensure that applicants already part of the Global Talent route are not disadvantaged by the closure, so the UK can continue to benefit from the brightest and best living and working here.”
Tech Nation’s statement about its closure included a warning for the UK Government: “The Government has announced ambitions to be a Science and Technology Superpower. It hopes to take on Silicon Valley, and to become the most innovative country in the world. But for the first time in decades, macroeconomic trends threaten Britain’s tech momentum.
“It is vital that Government rhetoric is now paired with policies and support mechanisms to match.
“Now is the moment for the UK Government to set a clear vision with coherent plans for the next decade of tech scaleup growth and success, where the UK can race away from European countries even further and truly compete with Silicon Valley’s finest.”
Tech Nation’ statement also said: “we have a portfolio of Tech Nation assets and an internationally acclaimed brand, and we have already started discussions with mission-based organisations to take these forward for the next decade. We are inviting Expressions of Interest from interested parties. The deadline for EOIs is 14th February 2023, and they can be submitted to: email@example.com.”
What now for the UK Government’s Digital Growth Grant?
There had been doubts over the viability of Tech Nation since it was reported last September that the DCMS would give the £12.09 million grant funding it relied on to Barclays Bank. The decision to move the grant funding to a commercial company has been controversial, with over 400 entrepreneurs signing an open letter calling on the government to rethink its decision to remove the award from an organisation that had run dozens of accelerator programmes for UK start-ups and scale-ups since 2011.
Over 95% of start-ups on Tech Nation’s accelerator programs went to scale, according to the organisation. More than a third of all tech unicorns and decacorns created in the UK graduated from a Tech Nation program, collectively raising over £28bn so far in venture capital and capital markets. The thousands of firms the organisation helped included some of the biggest names in UK tech, such as Monzo, Revolut, Depop, Bloom & Wild, Zilch, Just Eat, Darktrace, Marshmallow, Ocado, Skyscanner, Peak AI and Deliveroo.
Barclays is a big player in the start-up sector too, with incubator and accelerator programmes supporting UK enterprises starting and scaling up. Eagle Labs has worked with start-ups and scale-ups across the UK since 2015. A statement from Barclays Eagle Labs this month insisted that the accelerator programme receiving government funding “is operationally independent from Barclays’ banking services.” It said that the £12.09 million Digital Growth Grant would “increase support for the tech sector so more than 22,000 businesses can benefit from the grant, with at least 80 per cent based outside London.”
Gerard Grech, Founding CEO, Tech Nation said: “Many of Britain’s most successful tech companies, from Monzo to Deliveroo, and from Skyscanner to Darktrace, have passed through one or more of Tech Nation’s growth programs. We have helped champion and support innovators in everything from AI to FinTech to Climate tech and more. In doing so, we have helped spread digital growth and jobs nation-wide. For every pound invested in Tech Nation, we have returned £15.
“I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the Tech Nation team, to our ecosystem partners and all the inspirational innovators and entrepreneurs we have worked with along the way. I am grateful to the government’s support over nine years, and feel proud of all we achieved. It has been an incredible journey. Together we have made the UK tech economy a global powerhouse for tech talent and now third in the world for tech investment, after the US and China.”
If you have any concerns, are considering the Global Talent visa route or other UK business or personal immigration routes please feel free to contact us for a chat about your options on +44(0)207 033 9527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.